Thursday, May 22, 2008
The Passion of Marc Ambinder
Following the Marc Ambinder's reporting today (example) on the departure of Linda Douglass from the National Journal to join the Obama campaign, I can't help but get the sense that Marc is sort of shocked and a appalled by the turn of events. Since the Douglass news struck me as sort of epically ho-hum, I'm curious why it has provoked such a strong reaction in Ambinder. A couple thoughts drawn from years of following Ambinder's writing:
--Ambinder, like (seemingly) most journalists who have to deal with Obama's press operation on a daily basis, has tended to voice a healthy skepticism of the candidate, his appeal, his consistency, and the general width and breadth of the Obama movement. Douglass, from what little I know, tends to do more long form journalism, and thus has been insulated from whatever peculiar insipidness is poisoning the relationship between the Obama campaign and its beat reporters. (The deficiencies of the Obama press shop have been a theme of mine and Jeremy's in the past, and this whole Iran back and forth has only added to my concern about them. More on that some other day.)
--Ambinder sometimes seems to view the profession as an elevated priesthood, surveying politics from a position of intellectual and moral superiority. That may begin to explain the dislocation he senses from a colleague deciding to actually join the hurly-burly of politics.
--Ambinder's best sources this cycle seem to be emanating from the Clinton political shop and GOP opposition research; they may see profit in pushing the "liberal bias" element of the story. That element is, frankly, trumped up; people leave industries of all sorts to join political campaign and in so doing reveal personal preferences--not bias (unless one takes the farcical position that journalists are supposed to have no political opinions at all). Nevertheless, you can imagine that Ambinder--who broke this story--might start to see the theme as newsworthy after getting aggrieved and outraged emails about it from some of his most potent sources.
--Maybe he really just likes Douglass personally and doesn't want to see her move into an adversarial role.
In any case, it's an interesting example of the media getting quite exercised over a story that seems destined to cause hardly an electoral blip (I'd bet, though I've been wrong before).
(The attention Ambinder's given to this story conforms to a long held theory of mine that political coverage is often shaped by the fact that political journalists don't love politics the way sports writers love sports. This lack of enthusiasm for the subject tends to tilt their news judgment steeply toward the trivial.)